Last Christmas

Ah, Christmas time! Its memories never fade nor do they fold from the weight of misfortune. Sometimes, memories are all we have. Indeed, all that we need.

The smell of goose pervading my home’s every nook, and the prospect of a meal almost undeserved. A brandy cradled in cosy hands. The fire’s glow stoking the warmth in our hearts as my old tabby gazes – all lazy grinned – towards the dancing flames. The silent play of snow upon the pane, gathering fast on the window’s ledge, and the curious robin who flits upon it – a dear friend who I spoke to often.

All are welcome, I say. Let no man, woman, child or creature on this earth be denied the mirth so liberally served during this jocular season. Paper stars hang high from the ceiling; painted and speckled in all the colours of man’s making. Garlands of green holly and red berries drape from the chimney’s mantel, rippling between cards ripe with fresh well-wishes and a joy unique to the season’s habit.

Companions drawn from life’s each and every avenue – friends, family, those newly nestled into the familiarity of friendship – they come and go, bringing love and laughter, taking with them a warm belly of ruby red negus and my finest minced pies. The songs we sang; the carols and the ditties, the old and the new; each voice unique and an air to be admired. Let me not forget my festive, little clock; a gift given to me when I was just a boy. Every hour it sounds its merry chime, ushering me forward, towards another Christmas Day. I cannot imagine a winter without it.

Now that it is all that I have left, I would gladly trade it for a single pie or a smear of stilton. A miracle, and a miracle alone, can save me now. But then, the twenty-fifth fast approaches. The one day when such wonders are known to occur; when the workings of magical and well-disposed powers come into play. I shall keep Christmas as I always have, safe in the knowledge that I have kept it well. The storm may have chilled these lands, and taken from us all that we once held dear, but it shan’t frost over my festive spirit.

The clock rings. Another lonely hour passes.

My home was small; so poky that the warmth there stirred easily. That is, I suppose, the reason for my surviving as long as I did. With the door and windows long since barricaded against the storm, the chimney offered my only source of air. Through its stony throat the storm howled incessantly. Like the wolves who roamed the white streets, it knew where I was. It was but waiting for me to break my refuge in search of food and water.

I had all that I needed – a thimble of brandy saved to toast the twenty-fifth. My tree in the room’s corner may have died, but its decorations still sparkled. The coloured stars hanging from the ceiling mimicked a night’s sky that I would never lay eyes upon again; and of course there was my clock. I had counted down every hour like an eager child, and now the wait was over. Its chime rang in the turn of midnight and the commencement of Christmas Day.

Huddled in reams of cloth and as many layers as I could muster, I stared upon the fire’s dying embers. It was fated to be the last of its kind. All fuel and kindling was at that point exhausted. Its cessation did, however, make those final, fading moments of warmth all the more enjoyable. I awaited the miracle. Perhaps it had already come to pass. I had lived to see another Christmas. Was that not miracle enough?

Then I heard it – a rustling sound stemming from high within the chimney. I know what you must be thinking and no, even old Father Christmas knew that I was a lost cause. Besides, he was far too busy at that hour to be concerned with the likes of me. A loose stone fell into the hearth, blasting the black ash up in a little cloud. There was a chirp and a flutter, and before me there appeared a robin. My old friend had returned to me. Whether he was drawn by the flame’s waning glow or by the company of one as festively-inclined as he, I cared not. Together we sat.

I had not eaten for days. The fact of my stating this alone will guide you to a most ghastly conclusion. I shall confess that the thought did cross my mind. Indeed, there it did linger until my belly groaned from impatience. Could my little friend have been the wondrous gift that I had waited for so patiently – fresh meat to feast upon? Why, the fire’s heat would still cook its breast to a delectable rarity. But no, the agony of my circumstances and the inevitability of my passing were never so fearful as to befuddle the truth of things.

My friend was not intended to be eaten. Dear me, who ever uttered such a sentence? Nay, he was a gift far greater and one far less depraved. My bones cracked loud and long when I reached out for my welcome, meagre measure of brandy. I held it close to the last, lonely spark brave enough to live on when all those around it perished. We were not so different. The season’s magic had delivered unto me a companion – one to raise my drink to, and toast my final Christmas.

“May you keep the season long after I am gone,” I said to him, “and wherever your wings may carry you, I hope they keep you warm so that you may see many Christmases to come!”

The brandy was warm. It was sweet; quite possibly the finest I’d ever sampled. The last thought to cross my mind? Yes, I remember. Some drinks just taste better with someone to share them with. I let close my eyes, and whispered to my little friend a very merry Christmas.

Meet Author A.M. Shine @AMSHINEWRITER #horrorlounge

Visit Lounge Books here

Tell us about your latest book

A collection of gothic tales set in contemporary times entitled “Modern Gothic”.

First memory of reading horror

My older brother’s tattered copy of H. P. Lovecraft’s “Omnibus 3: The Haunter of the Dark” began my lifelong love affair with the horror genre. I still have it to this day, and there’s very little chance that he’s ever going to get it back. “The Outsider”, the opening tale in the collection, remains one of the best that I’ve ever read. At just over 2,500 words, it’s a master class in short story-telling.

Which 3 horror books do you keep returning to?

Lovecraft’s “Necronomicon”, Poe’s “Popular Tales” (a nineteenth century edition containing his complete works that is as much a part of me as the very bones in my body), and a 1970 edition of Stoker’s “Dracula” with a marvellous, hammy cover.

For readers new to horror which 3 books would you recommend?

“The turn of the screw” by Henry James, and Robert Louis Stevenon’s “Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” are short, wonderful novellas that are perfect for those new to the genre. For something longer, then “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley is a must read. The book is simply a masterpiece.

Who do you consider the King and Queen of horror fiction?

I believe that Edgar Allan Poe and Edith Wharton could reign quite happily together. Well, happy or not, they would have my full support.

Greatest horror film (adapted from a book) & why?

Hammer’s 1958 “Dracula”, because watching Peter Cushing race atop a table and leap into a curtain never gets old.

Horror book that you’d like to see adapted to film & why?

Guillermo Del Toro was planning to adapt “The Mountains of Madness” to the big screen. One of my favourite directors coupled with one of Lovecraft’s best stories sounds good to me.

Did you write in other genres or straight to horror?

I have always written horror, and when I have – for reasons unknown – delved into other, brighter genres I have always scurried back into shadows, where I belong.

Tell us briefly about your route to being published

There were a lot of corners.

Tell us about your fans

They’re a wonderfully strange bunch, and I love them dearly.

Horror doesn’t seem to be as well respected as other genres of fiction. Why do you think that is?


Do you think horror is ready for a renaissance?

I certainly hope so. Horror movies are enjoying a rare spell of popularity, and this might encourage more people to delve into books that they would otherwise overlook. Literature had always been the genre’s definitive medium. Let the renaissance begin.

Tips for new writers of horror fiction.

With clever misdirection the reader will never see it coming.

Do you believe in evil?

I don’t think I would be a horror writer if I didn’t.

What scares you?


Do you celebrate Halloween?

Yes, every day.

Read More

Review of "Coldwood: The Haunted Man and Other Tales" by Stephanie Ellis

Follow writer and blogger Stephanie Ellis @

Real gothic darkness haunts these pages which overflow with stories of madness and murder all within the confines of that strange town of Coldwood. It has everything you could desire, from a lunatic asylum, to neglected mansions and abandoned churches, all set against a backdrop of savage snowstorms, strange red mists and lowlands across which wolves roam. The inhabitants of the town live up to their setting and display strange habits, obsessions and twisted desires, much of which directly leads them back to the Asylum. The stories interlinked unobtrusively and wove the community together, the quality of each matching its neighbours. I would select however, A Wolf at the Door, as my personal favourite for its portrayal of madness and self-deception.
Gothic literature for me, when written well, is a delight because of the language it uses, and here words from the past pepper the pages to create a richness not seen in many modern tales, this makes me happy - even if it is describing a suicide or wolves ripping their victim apart. Poe is the master of this tradition but this anthology is a wonderful homage to the genre. Recommended reading, particularly on a winter's evening with dusk drawing in and a fire crackling in the hearth.

Coldwood: The Haunted Man and Other Tales

A. M. Shine's latest collection is available to buy now.

Welcome to Coldwood, a town not unlike H.P. Lovecraft's Arkham - the focal point of strange happenings, of murders, disappearances, of insanity, and degradation. A place where the fabric of reality frays, and nature is perverted beyond recognition.

From the visceral psychosis of "A Wolf at the Door", to the labyrinthine terror of "The Maze of Madness", no reader will be left unfulfilled.

A.M. Shine has crafted a startling collection of gothic tales that will turn your perception upside down and inside out. He will leave you reeling, yet wanting for more.

"The Haunted Man" by A.M. Shine / Winner of the Bookers Corner October Writing Prize

The patient’s manacled hands were steady. He slouched in the iron chair as though in its rigid shape he had divined some comfort. Perhaps he truly was mad. With a cool indifference he glanced around the cell. Its four walls were plated with square tiles. Thick composites of grime had gathered in their recesses. Behind the man was fastened a mirror. Upon it a fog of filth cried out to be cleaned. Like the many feeble pleas which echoed through the corridors of Alderwitch Asylum it was dutifully ignored. The psychiatrist’s chair scraped across the concrete as he seated himself at the far end of the table; his smile seemed out of place. In Coldwood County, happiness was often found in the strangest places; for those incarcerated in Alderwitch it was rarely found at all

“Tell me, Anthony,” the doctor asked with a smile, “do you still believe in ghosts?” The man was clearly thrilled to talk down to one older than he. One once so respected.

“I do not,” the patient replied; his voice soft and slow, “I am of the opinion that I was but the victim of an overwrought imagination. My eyes may well be failing me, doctor, but my mind has never before enjoyed such clarity.”

“Then please, in your own time,” he said, “relate to me in deserved detail the events which led you to be under our care here at Alderwitch. Honesty, as I am sure you know, Anthony, is the key to certifying one’s sanity. Lies and subterfuge are the tools of the wicked.”

“The only tool I have want or need for in this life is a pen, doctor,” he returned, “I wish only to be rid of this place and to resume my writing.”

“I am familiar with your work,” said the man with a grimace, “I do, however, lend little worth to fiction. In my profession we deal only in fact, and that is what I wish to hear from you today.”

Anthony sat forward in his chair. Though he despised the fiend seated before him he suppressed all his anger, all ill-feeling, into a single purpose – to disprove his madness. Only then could he escape the prison which held custody over his life. Hell on earth did indeed exist. He had found it in Coldwood County.

“Before my internment here at Alderwitch,” the patient began, “I lived alone in Broke Bell Lane. Not many people know of it. I found the appearance of Coldwood’s town nauseating to the eye. As I am sure you are aware, its black stone snares no light. It simply shimmers like some viscous oil. Its cobbles are so ill set and poorly-selected that every street is a mass of cumbersome stepping stones. The land rises and falls at intervals and angles which forgo explanation, whilst all architecture appears askew and poorly constructed as though the whole damnable place was built in a hasty hour to conceal some foul secret. For these reasons and more I settled in Broke Bell Lane. It is a small and mostly forgotten little alleyway on the outskirts of the town where old masonry and hollow warehouses await to again be of some use to those who abandoned them. For a time I was the area’s only resident, and from this blissful solitude I found the peace requisite to good writing.

“I learned a long time ago that my creativity waxed most fervently by the nightly hours. The moon was my muse and I was its loyal votary. My desk was placed by a window on the first floor, and here I would sit by the light of a lonely candle and pen my next fictive venture. The dank street below was habitually deserted save for the regular scatter of cats and vermin. I never interfered with their timeless contest and they in-turn paid little heed to my presence. This implicit harmony was, however, like most joys in this life fated to end. After close to a year of easeful living in a street I deemed my own, a gentleman – a stranger to my eyes – settled into the building directly across from my own.

“We experienced a particular cold winter that year. The snow had gathered like a fat frost on my window’s ledge. Its flakes cascaded down endlessly from the starry sky like some heavenly gift. No cat or rat dared step out into the bitter chill, and all was calm. As I sat, silently pondering the ins and outs of some cavernous plotline, I was alerted to the sound of footfalls crunching softly in the blanket of snow below. Indulging my curiosity I wiped the damp from the pane and peered into the street. A portly chap I recognised as my landlord was rifling through a ring of keys whilst a tall man attired entirely in black stood patiently beside him, the snow settling fast on his shoulders. In time, when the elusive key was found, they both made their way upstairs. You may well imagine my surprise when they appeared in the window facing my own. We were to live side by side, divided by a single street – a distance too far to converse politely but close enough to pry into each other’s business.

“I was intrigued to find that the stranger’s apartment bore remarkable similarities to my own. Even the layout of its room mirrored my humble study. I watched as my landlord – Fitzgerald was his name – pointed out the chamber’s meagre assets to the man. The new tenant seemed disinterested in any and all palaver as he hoisted his travelling case onto the desk and began sorting through his belongings, never once acknowledging Fitzgerald with so much as a nod or an utterance. I do not believe he saw me, or if he had then he had taken equal measures to ignore me as he did our landlord. On the pale cobbles outside a black cat manifested from the shadows. It would seem we both shared an interest in our new neighbour; a man whose arrival was to mark the end of a peaceful and productive time of my life; one which I am keen to reclaim, doctor.”

“Few men of sound mind would volunteer to live amongst stray cats and rodents,” the psychiatrist sneered, “but then the world is home to a great many oddities, and writers by their very nature are a curious breed. Do tell me, Anthony, how did this man in black so influence your life?”

“Quite indirectly, doctor,” he replied, “and yet had he never come to live in Broke Bell Lane then I believe we would not be sat here having this conversation. I rue the day I ever laid eyes on him.

“The following evening I went about my discipline as best I could. I found the absence of darkness in the opposing building awfully distracting. I admit that my senses had attuned far too much so to the familiar, and the stranger’s presence was anything but ordinary to me. Fortunately, by approximately the night’s ninth hour he extinguished his candle’s flame and set out into the streets of Coldwood. I knew not where he went and I cared even less, and so I returned to my writing, safe in the mind that if only for a few hours Broke Bell Lane was mine once again. But I was not the only soul in attendance that night. There was another, and she had left no footprint in the snow nor had she snared the attention of any judicious feline.

“As both windows were perfectly aligned, the light of my candle was transposed quite faithfully onto the other’s pane; and as I sat, immersed in my own thoughts, it was there that my eyes did idly fall. As you know, even when one’s mind strays into fanciful realms the eyes remain ever astute, and in the shadows of the stranger’s home they did mark some movement. Someone stirred amidst its shadows – a woman dressed, it would seem, in a white nightdress. To say the least I was instantly dragged back to reality by sheer embarrassment, for what if the lady should erroneously accuse me of spying on her. I dampened my candle’s wick and lowered my head out of sight like a villain evading persecution. Her appearance had, however, irked my curiosity as I had yet to see her leave or enter via the apartment’s only doorway on the street below.

“From the shadows and safely out of sight I watched as the woman drifted through the room, seemingly without purpose. She did not touch any of the man’s effects. In fact, she tendered little time to anything. The darkness of the chamber concealed her features, but there can be no denying her presence; and no sooner had I begun to speculate her relationship to the man in black when she vanished, dissolving into the shadows as though she had never existed.

“During the two nights that followed I observed the same routine. The gentleman always departed around the ninth bell and in his absence the woman would appear. Never were they seen together. Both individuals seemed ignorant of the other’s existence. As you may well imagine, doctor, at this stage I was eager to learn something – anything – about them.”

“It is a poor caste of character who cannot mind his own business,” the psychiatrist interjected, “I fail to see how this couple’s domestic arrangement came to beg your interference. Would you not yourself take offence if another took to spying on you in your private hours?”

“Hear me out,” Anthony snapped back, “before you judge me too harshly, doctor. The next afternoon I took a rare trot through the town in search of Fitzgerald – my landlord. The man’s haunts were not unknown to me. He is, like many of us, a creature of habit and all too fond of a swift mid-day porter. I found him stationed in a dusty corner of Morton’s tavern. He assumed that I had hunted him down to air some grievance, and so when I requested no more than a friendly chat he was open to answering my questions regarding his latest tenants if only to be rid of me so that he could enjoy his pint in peace.

“The man in black, he told me, went by the name of Spencer – Charles W. Spencer. Of his past and personal life he knew little, only that he was of sufficient wealth to secure the dwelling up front for six months. To a landlord, I assume, this was all that mattered. I enquired after the young lady and who she was to Spencer, but Fitzgerald stared at me blankly. He knew nothing of her nor did he care. The apartment was paid for and Spencer was permitted to house a guest should he wish to do so. At this stage my landlord’s patience was beginning to fray and so I left him to his drink and bid him a good day. Now, however, more than before, a wealth of wild conjectures occupied my mind. Who was this woman, and was Spencer privy to her presence? Did she reside in another part of the building and enjoy unwarranted access to the man’s apartment? If this was the case then what sinister motives would drive her to do so?

“My writing was decorously adjourned until some explanation presented itself. I had yet to make Spencer’s acquaintance, but I felt morally obliged to vouchsafe his well-being. Should any harm have befallen the man then my conscience would not have withstood it, and so I decreed to prolong my nightly surveillance of his home. Yes, I know that it is uncouth to meddle into the life of another, but there are times when we must do something bad if only to prevent something worse, if you understand me, doctor?”

“How noble of you, Anthony,” he replied with a wry smile, “I understand your reasoning, though I do little appreciate it. Such sentiments can be employed to excuse any manner of sin. Bad deeds are all too easily justified by those who commit them. This is why institutes such as Alderwitch exist.”

“Do not twist my words,” Anthony said to him, “You and I both know that I do not belong here. If you will allow me to finish then you shall soon revoke your poor opinion of me.

“The following night Spencer’s moonlit movements were repeated as I had expected. The darkness was my ally and so no candle was gifted life. I sat patiently by my window, awaiting the woman’s appearance, eager to steal a glimpse of her countenance. The wind whistled harrowingly through the bones of my home. Here and there the walls did creak. Perhaps the rats had fallen for my ruse and fancied that I was not at home. To the world outside I did not exist. I sat patiently in the shadows with my eyes set on the chamber beyond the cobbles of Broke Bell Lane. I knew the room well for it was identical to my own.

“Eventually she strayed into sight. I jolted forward – apparently caught off guard by the expected – and watched her gown waft slowly through the darkness. I strained my eyes, but alas they are not as sharp as they once were. My face was practically pressed against the cold pane. Suddenly, I thought she made an approach towards the window and so I sank my head into the darkness. I would not have been surprised if she had seen me; so conspicuous was my presence. On the floor I counted the minutes until I deemed it safe to recommence my investigation. Exercising the utmost caution I raised my eyes above the ledge and there, standing before her window – staring directly at me – stood the ghastly, cadaverous mien of the woman in white. Her unblinking black eyes were fixed on my own and I collapsed to my knees in a fearful sweat.

“My wildest nightmares could not have conjured up so horrific a visage. By the moon’s light her skin shimmered like some limpid mineral. Her raven black hair carried traces of silver and swirled about her shoulders without need for touch or breeze. Her eyes trapped no light and burned with a bleak and ancient menace. But it was the mouth. Dear God, the mouth. Seconds passed, but time was stricken by a mystifying lethargy, and I could but watch as her lips parted into a hideous smile populated with ranks of rotted teeth. All of what I have described to you is accurate. I could scarcely believe it myself. Perhaps I simply did not want to. Regardless, when my strength recovered and I glanced over to Spencer’s apartment she was gone. Nothing in the chamber had been disturbed.”

“So this is the infamous ghost?” the psychiatrist laughed, “A touch cliché for a writer of fiction, I must say. Please, Anthony, do continue.”

“I resolved to arrest Spencer’s attention upon his return and warn him of the phantom who haunted his home. Too fearful was I, however, to leave the safety of my study. The mere sight of her had fleeced my soul of courage, and so I waited. The darkness, once my accomplice, now turned against me. The air itself seemed threatening. Each hour passed like the longest day until I was alerted by a glow from beyond the pane – the light of a candle. The man had arrived home.

“Climbing to my feet, I cast my own wick alight and essayed to save Spencer from the evil which stalked him. He was stood by his desk with his body facing me, examining a piece of parchment. I called to him – oh, how I roared – but he could not hear me. The wind carried my cries elsewhere. Then I saw her! That ghastly woman manifested as if from nowhere and was now standing directly behind him. Her sickening mouth was practically breathing down the man’s neck. Then, by sweet fortune’s aid, Spencer saw me. With my hands I gestured – nay, I ordered – him to turn around. With all the ingenuity I could muster I signalled that there was someone behind him. The man looked utterly confused. To my dismay, instead of doing that which I besought him to do, he began to mimic my actions. He started to point over my shoulder. Why ever was the man doing this? Suddenly, it dawned on me. His window – aligned so acutely with mine – presented me with a reflection of my chamber. I was staring not upon his apartment, but a mirror image of my own.”

The psychiatrist did not respond immediately. There could be no doubting the truth in his patient’s voice.

“How would you best explain what you experienced?” he asked.

“I was mentally exhausted, doctor,” Anthony replied, “Too many restless nights. Too many hours lost in my own imagination. I know now, all that I suffered was the result of an excitable fancy. But you have my word, as I sit before you today my mind has never been stronger.”

“Your honesty is appreciated,” he said, no longer smiling, “There may be hope for you yet.”

Without another word the psychiatrist departed, leaving his patient alone to await his verdict. Anthony rose to his feet and stepped gingerly over towards the mirror. He wiped the grime from it with his sleeve and there he stood, staring not at his own reflection, rather his eyes were fixed on the empty space behind him.

“How long have you haunted me?” he cried softly so that only she could hear him, “Why won’t you leave me be?”

"Nostomania" by A.M. Shine / Winner of The Word Hut's 16th Short Story Competition

I reached the county line. This was not my first attempt to escape. The same nauseating sensation; that familiar maelstrom of memories; they all conspired to stop me in my tracks. I had traversed mist-laden glens, crashed through trickling streams and pierced the shadows of wild and fearful forests; all the while focused on my decision – to leave Coldwood and never return. I promised myself that I would not fail; not this time. And yet there I stood transfixed, my legs bound to the spot – two immovable pillars, too weighty for the will of one so frail to carry. Swarthy clouds engulfed the sky above. A lifeless fog patrolled the cold earth below. It chilled the heat of my conviction; a bitter frost did settle on my very soul. I suffered the sudden surge of a thousand doubts; all of them urging me to return home. For that is what Coldwood County was and ever shall be – my home. I will never be free of it. Though I do not understand why, this is my choice. This is my curse.

The town’s oldest archives all bear some mention, however brief, of my family’s presence in Coldwood. In the cemetery there stands a tomb of stone etched with the names of those passed before me. Their ashes are disturbed only when the body of another Blake is ceremoniously scorched to cinders. The dates of their internment extend beyond the reach of our recorded history. From their deaths I gleaned a morbid sense of entitlement - that my family’s unbroken occupation in the land had bequeathed me some elusive standing in society. Such thoughts I know now to be but the folly of youth - an arrogance divined from idle, foolish reverie. I was no different from the county’s other inhabitants. We shared the same fears; we endured the same tragedies. Some of them left to seek out happiness elsewhere. Some of these wanderers returned; others did not. I, however, never left. Why ever would I? All that I cherish is here.

I was blessed to have found love at a young age. A few short months after my eighteenth year of life, sweet fortune’s grace delivered Katherine into my arms. Hers was a beauty untouched by time or sorrow; no romantic vision had ever imagined so angelic a being – the light of heaven itself glistened in her eyes and I could look nowhere else. Our loving union was sanctified amidst the amber leaves of autumn as we stood before the very mausoleum where our remains would someday be sealed together for all eternity. Katherine respected my ancestry and the oddity of such a tradition, and I loved her all the more for it. Surrounded by the ghosts of my family’s past she embraced the Blake name and, for a time, happiness was mine to treasure.

Sadness came with the winter’s snow. Such a crippling chill, no living being was safe from it. Death truly stalked the streets of Coldwood, and its touch extended to everyone – the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor; the reaper cared not. I held Katherine close as we watched so many friends and familiar faces freeze for all time; their bodies perfectly preserved where their hearts beat their last. My parents counted amongst the dead. Though we remained in the confines of our home with ample rations and wood to burn, the cold hand of death had found them.

Never in my lifetime had another Blake died. My despair was all-consuming. The suffocating reality of my own helplessness took its toll on my reasoning. To this fateful shortcoming I do painfully confess. Though the tears froze fast to my cheeks and every utterance parted my lips as mist, I burned their bodies in the grounds of our estate. They were Blakes, and it was my solemn duty to uphold our family’s customs despite all the damnable death which tainted the land – they would find their final resting place amidst the urns of their ancestors. This would have been their wish.

With a sum of coin no man could resist I did procure the hand of Coldwood’s chief engraver. Truth be told, I gifted the chap enough wealth to secure his craft for all future Blakes to come. My wife, Katherine, as true to my cause as indeed my love for her, insisted that she join us; and so we three did venture out into the blizzard to deposit my parents’ ashes and mark their names on the pale tomb which awaited all those who follow my family’s line. The engraver’s hands were scolded by the air’s algid bite, but the job was done. My peace of mind, however, was but an artful calm. Sorrow’s storm was fast approaching.

Katherine and I returned home to find all fires dead and lightless. The air was painful to breathe and despite my efforts I could cast no kindling alight, for all the wood was leavened with a cold damp. We huddled together for warmth beneath the heaviest blankets we could find, but alas, it was not enough. The light of my life was extinguished. That night my love died in my cold embrace.

I am the last remaining Blake. I alone wield the responsibility to secure our existence in this land. I spend my days not immersed in gainful pursuit; I fear my melancholy will not permit me the pleasure of doing so. Rather I dedicate my days and nights to keeping vigil over the resting place of those I love. I run my cold fingers through the letters marking my parents’ names; then I trace the name of the woman I adored more than anything else on this earth – Katherine Blake. I am yet to find the courage to touch the engraving below it, for it spells out my own name, and my family’s legacy will not let me rest. It will never let me leave this place, and oh, how I have tried.

Extract from "The Maze of Madness"

How far did that dark-infested corridor stretch? Its walls were jagged and narrow; whilst a stale dampness seeped through pores in its stone. Here and there this moisture snared some light, but I knew not its source. I had little choice but to fumble forth into the unknown. The ground was coarse and strewn with what I could only assume were rocks and the splintered bones of dead vermin. A sudden surge of claustrophobia made my skin burn with a nauseating clamminess. The black tunnel amplified my every panicked breath and in the dark abyss which lay before me I heard the scuffling of footfalls and the ethereal tears of one in distress. I called out for help. Oh, how foolish I was. No words returned my pleas; instead they were met with a guttural howl which boomed through the earth like thunder. At first there was one voice, and then there were many; then came the deafening opus of countless bodies scrambling towards me.